Sudbury

Sudbury byelection bribery trial: 'I thought it was a good choice' Matichuk says of Thibeault

Marianne Matichuk, the former mayor of Sudbury who party brass allegedly passed over as a potential candidate in the 2015 byelection, takes the stand in the bribery trial of two Liberal organizers.

Marianne Matichuk was considering a run for vacant MPP seat in 2015 byelection

Former Sudbury mayor Marianne Matichuk was considering a run for the seat left vacant by NDP MPP Joe Cimino. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

Former Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk says when she was told that then NDP MP Glenn Thibeault was going to defect to the Ontario Liberals and run in the 2015 Sudbury byelection, she knew her push to be the candiate was over.

"Nobody asked me to step back. That was my decision. They've already chosen the person... it's over," Matichuk told a Sudbury court on Friday.

"I thought it was a good choice."

That was a very different approach from Andrew Olivier who ran for the Liberals in the 2014 election.

He went public before the byelection campaign started with taped conversations and allegations that the Liberals tried to offer him a job if he got out of Thibeault's way.

That led to the bribery charges under the Election Act against former Liberal Party CEO Pat Sorbara and prominent Sudbury businessman and key local Liberal organizer Gerry Lougheed which they are on trial for now.

Sorbara is also charged with bribing Thibeault to join the Liberals with the promise of paid jobs for two loyal staffers who had served him as MP.

Former Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk has said speculation about her running for the Liberals stems from her wearing a red dress during a visit by Premier Kathleen Wynne in February 2014. (Vale Canada Limited)

Matichuk was a political rookie when she elected as Greater Sudbury's mayor in 2010.

By winter 2014, she says she was having conversations with the Liberal party about running in the upcoming provincial election.

"I didn't know anything about the nomination process. I needed some information about how this would work" Matichuk told the court.

But Matichuk testified that she then ran into "controversy" which "played out in the paper, referring to a series of speculative articles in the Sudbury Star suggesting the Liberals were considering appointing her as the candidate, which delayed a nomination meeting for other Liberals going after the nod, including Andrew Olivier.

Matichuk told the court "there was a lot of dysfunction in the riding association"  and didn't like the "distasteful" and "disrespectful tactics" of those who didn't want her to be the Liberal candidate.

"There were a lot of rumours I was running and I hadn't decided yet," Matichuk testified. "I knew riding association was not behind me."

"This is ridiculous," Matichuk remembers telling Liberal officials, including campaign director Pat Sorbara, when she decided not to run because of the "controversy."

Matichuk concerned with her and Olivier 'punching each other in the face'

But later that year, with her one term as mayor was almost over, MPP Joe Cimino quit suddenly just a few months after winning the seat for the NDP.

Matichuk called Gerry Lougheed immediately, excited at the prospect of being the Liberal candidate.

She testified that she met with Sorbara to discuss the coming byelection, but wanted assurances that a nomination race between herself and Olivier wouldn't be "punching each other in the face in public."

Matichuk said she "wasn't 100 per cent" sure she'd run, but went ahead and filled out nomination papers and sent them to Gerry Lougheed.

It was he that called her in December 2014 to let her know that Glenn Thibeault would be the Liberal candidate. She testified that she immediately knew she'd support him.

Vince Borg chats with Premier Kathleen Wynne back when the former mining executive was Ontario Liberal Party President. (Twitter)

The seventh day of the trial began with testimony from Vince Borg, a former executive at Barrick Gold, who also worked in the office of Liberal Premier David Peterson in the late 1980s, but was most recently Liberal Party president.

Borg told the court he spent an "inordinate" amount of time on the "complicated" Sudbury riding leading up to 2014 general election, the first after 19-year MPP Rick Bartolucci had retired.​

He called it a "Rick Bartolucci fiefdom" with an "obstructionist" riding association.

Borg testified that he had "many, many conversations" with then Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk about running.

He said she frequently changed her mind if she wanted to take the plunge into provincial politics or not. Borg also said that many in Sudbury suspected she was a Conservative and didn't want to work with her.

Borg said Matichuk and her supporters wanted her appointed as the candidate, but he told her that was unlikely. He said the speculation that the Liberals were considering this though, "was like wildfire" in the riding.

He testified that Gerry Lougheed was also a "prospective candidate", as was his spouse Louise Paquette, a well-known public servant in Sudbury, who at the time headed the Northeast Local Health Integration Network.

Borg said his "blue sky candidate" was former Sudbury Police Chief Ian Davidson, then just retired from a job with the provincial government.

Former Ontario Liberal Party CEO and campaign director Pat Sorbara pushes past reporters on her way into court in Sudbury to stand trial for bribery. (Yvon Theriault/Radio-Canada)

The court heard that Borg was "enthralled" with Davidson and thought he was the kind of candidate who would be good for democracy as a whole, but said he was looking forward to "down time" having just retired and bought a home in Florida.

"WTF" was a message Borg said he received the day NDP MPP Joe Cimino quit suddenly just five months after being elected.

He says the conversations with the list of potential Sudbury candidates started up again, but when it was clear Glenn Thibeault was ready to cross over to the Ontario Liberals, he says he was the clear candidate and Borg thought the premier should appoint him over past candidate Andrew Olivier who had "had his chance" in 2014.

​The prosecution is expected to wrap up its case Wednesday next week, after two days of scheduled testimony from now Sudbury MPP and energy minister Glenn Thibeault.

 There are dates set aside in October for the defence to present evidence. 

Who's who in the byelection bribery trial

The accused:

  • Pat Sorbara, former Liberal Party CEO, campaign director and deputy chief-of-staff to the premier.
  • Gerry Lougheed Jr., Liberal organizer and a Sudbury businessman.

Judge: Howard Borenstein, from Toronto.

Prosecutors: David McKercher, Vern Brewer and Rick Visca.

Defence lawyers: Michael Lacy for Lougheed, Brian Greenspan and Erin Dann for Sorbara.

Witnesses to be called by the Crown (in anticipated order):

  • Andrew Olivier: 2014 Ontario Liberal candidate, who accused the party of bribing him to stand aside in the 2015 byelection for star candidate and now Sudbury MPP and Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault.
  • Simon Tunstall, chief executive officer of the Ontario Liberal party 2012 to 2015.
  • Aaron St. Pierre, Olivier's campaign manager.
  • Rick Bartolucci, former Sudbury MPP and cabinet minister.
  • Kathleen Wynne, premier of Ontario.
  • William Nurmi, then president of the Sudbury provincial Liberal riding association.
  • Dominic Giroux, then president of Laurentian University, incoming president of Health Sciences North.
  • Siloni Waraich, past president of Liberal Party of Ontario.
  • Andre Bisson, then vice-president of Sudbury provincial Liberal riding association.
  • Darrell Marsh, who worked in Thibeault's NDP MP constituency office, then moved to Liberals with him.
  • Brian Band, who worked in Thibeault's NDP MP constituency office, then moved to Liberals with him.
  • Marianne Matichuk, former Greater Sudbury mayor, who was interested in running for Ontario Liberals.
  • Vince Borg, past president of the Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Kim Donaldson, nomination commissioner for Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Azam Ishmael, executive director Ontario Liberal Party.
  • Neil Downs, director of the public appointments secretariat for government of Ontario.
  • Shelley Potter, deputy chief of staff to premier of Ontario.
  • Glenn Thibeault, former NDP MP for Sudbury, now Sudbury Liberal MPP and energy minister.

About the Author

Erik White

journalist

Erik White is a CBC journalist based in Sudbury. He covers a wide range of stories about northern Ontario. Connect with him on Twitter @erikjwhite. Send story ideas to erik.white@cbc.ca

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